Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. His memoir, It's So Easy (Simon & Schuster) is out now on paperback.
I just had a panic attack.
I'm on a plane. It's smaller than I'm used to. As soon as the door closed, my breathing got shallow. I kicked off my shoes, yanked off my coat, and started to swig my bottle of water. Drinking water for me takes away the full concentration of actually breathing for a moment or two, and offers me a bit of a reprieve.
I've thought of writing about panic here before, because I know that so many of us suffer. I've thought of writing about it when I am actually HAVING one, so that we could get a real-life inside peek at one through the words written within. But when I had this attack, I couldn't think straight to write.
Many people around us suffer from some form of panic disorder, ranging from mild anxiety to full-blown acute panic disorder. I have been a sufferer of the latter since I was 17.
It can be an extremely terrifying experience, but also a source of embarrassment. You never know when it might happen. What if you are in a place with a bunch of complete strangers? They are probably going to think you are crazy or on drugs.
At the onset of a panic attack, your heart will start to race and your mind will start to get flooded with way too much information. A tight band starts to clamp down around your chest, your extremities get cold, and you have an urge to shed your clothes because of the sense of suffocating claustrophobia. Not fun.
Different people have different inputs that will jump-start their episodes. Elevators. Freeways in a car. High floors in a building, and about a million other experiences.
Initially there were many things I couldn't do because of my affliction; that "narrowing down" of your life just kills your self-confidence, spurring more and more attacks. It's a merry-go round that seems to go faster and faster and out of your control.
I've been able to narrow or pare all that back in the last bunch of years with the help of martial arts, but still I have problems with planes.
It's not the plane "going down" and crashing that does it for me--it's the claustrophobia of when that door shuts and I know that I will be stuck in a tube I can't get out of for a set amount of time. It is a totally all-encompassing fear for me . . . every flight is a trip into full-on martial-arts meditation and practice of all the things I have worked on. Remember, I can't drink or do drugs.
I'm OK now. I'm feeling better. My clothes are back on and my bottle of water is gone, but I have fully recovered.
Why is it that some of us have panic attacks? Are we more sensitive than others? Is THAT why we get these things? Is our "fight or flight" mechanism in our brains a bit more altered that most people's? Do we have less natural dopamine or serotonin than other people have? Did something happen in our childhoods that later showed up as some sort of dastardly panic?
I don't know. I've heard so many different theories, and have tried to explore all of them. I DO know, though, that there are so damn many more like me that it sometimes eases my mind by the fact that I don't feel so all alone. It's a comfort to know that I am not "crazy" or whatever, and that there is a certain fellowship among all of us. Right?